China-Owned Smithfield Foods Closing Plants, Threatening US Meat Supply


America’s meat supply might be in jeopardy as workers at slaughterhouses and meat processing plants are diagnosed with COVID-19, leading to closures across the country.

The effects of such closures are complex and could have far-reaching consequences across the food supply chain, putting America’s livestock farmers in jeopardy of going under as wholesale prices take a dive.

Even more alarming is the fact that the largest provider of pork in the U.S. is owned and held by a corporation based in China.

Smithfield Foods is the country’s largest producer of pork products, and its products are sold under the popular brands Nathan’s Famous, Farmland, Eckrich, Armour and Healthy Ones, to name a few.

The longtime Virginia-based company was acquired in 2013 by Shuanghui International Holdings Ltd. (now WH Group Ltd.).

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Smithfield, with plants across the country that employ tens of thousands of Americans, announced last week it had closed multiple locations due to COVID-19 outbreaks among its workforce.

The company addressed the closures of plants in Cudahy, Wisconsin; Martin City, Missouri; and Sioux Falls, South Dakota, in recent news releases.

“The closure of our Martin City plant is part of the domino effect underway in our industry,” Smithfield CEO Kenneth M. Sullivan said in a news release Wednesday. “It highlights the interdependence and interconnectivity of our food supply chain.

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“Our country is blessed with abundant livestock supplies, but our processing facilities are the bottleneck of our food chain.”

In an April 12 release on the Sioux Falls closure, Sullivan wrote, “The closure of this facility, combined with a growing list of other protein plants that have shuttered across our industry, is pushing our country perilously close to the edge in terms of our meat supply. It is impossible to keep our grocery stores stocked if our plants are not running.

“These facility closures will also have severe, perhaps disastrous, repercussions for many in the supply chain, first and foremost our nation’s livestock farmers. These farmers have nowhere to send their animals.”

The company, founded in the town of Smithfield, Virginia in 1936, was sold to Shuanghui International Holdings for $4.7 billion, according to Forbes.

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Now it is warning of a potential meat shortage nationwide that would harm no individual more than the American farmer.

The American Farm Bureau Federation notes that the country’s farmers are ready to meet the challenge of supplying the country with food throughout the COVID-19 crisis.

“Whether they’re readying the soil for spring planting, tending to crops that have already sprouted, feeding and milking their dairy cows or looking after their cattle, chickens and pigs, farmers and ranchers take very seriously their commitment to fill grocery store shelves with safe, affordable food,” the AFBF stated.

Still, strict shutdowns and tumbling meat prices are putting a strain on the men and women who raise the country’s livestock.

Iowa cattle farmer Brian Sampson told Des Moines-based KCCI-TV he is “going broke” because of low prices from packing plants.

“If you have cattle to sell right now, you’re losing your shirt,” he said.

Illinois pork farmer Thomas Titus told WICS-TV in Springfield that prices for his livestock have plummeted and he isn’t sure if he will make it out on the other side of the country’s battle against the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The bottom of the barrel really doesn’t have any light in it,” Titus said. “The market is continuing to drop way below the cost of production for any hog farmer, depending on their overhead, it doesn’t matter at this point in time.”

Illinois Pork Production Association Executive Director Jennifer Tirey told WICS the consequences for farmers during the crisis are “devastating.”

When looking at the struggles of American farmers, it really should open some eyes as to why China — the United States’ greatest geopolitical rival — was allowed to get a huge stake in such a critical portion of America’s food supply chain.

While Americans are forced inside their homes by a virus born in China, what is to say our meat supply isn’t vulnerable to being held hostage by China’s authoritarian regime?

WH Group describes itself as “a Hong Kong-based privately held company that owns a variety of food and logistics enterprises.”

But exactly how private is a privately owned Chinese company?

The U.K. Guardian reported in 2019 that in his first term in office, Chinese President Xi Jinping “has overseen a sea change in how the party approaches the economy, dramatically strengthening the party’s role in both government and private businesses.”

Have we ignored yet another potential danger from China by allowing its corporations to buy and own vital American businesses and industries, especially those that relate to national supply chains?

Why is such a valuable asset, such as Smithfield, in the hands of a Chinese company?

What happens if China’s government uses its influence over private enterprise as a strategic tool of the state to wage an economic war against the U.S.?

It has become abundantly clear that China is no ally to Americans — or to American farmers.

The potential power of Chinese interests over America’s farmers and food supplies is yet another reason Americans need to consider the far-reaching implications of being tethered to their country’s largest geopolitical and economic rival.

I am reminded of late radio icon Paul Harvey’s “So God Made a Farmer” speech to the Future Farmers of America in 1978 when considering the plight of the men and women who work to put food on our tables as they struggle with the implications of events beyond their control.

Farmers play a vital role in American business and culture and provide essential food and other products to all Americans.

Without a timely and safe reopening of America’s economy, a short-term meat shortage could force many of them out of business and prolong the crisis even further.

This is also an appropriate time to have a discussion about why any Chinese company should have a controlling interest in the country’s food supply chain — and whether the men and women on the frontlines of American agriculture should find themselves as pawns in an international chess match between Beijing and lawmakers in Washington.

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Johnathan Jones has worked as a reporter, an editor, and producer in radio, television and digital media.
Johnathan "Kipp" Jones has worked as an editor and producer in radio and television. He is a proud husband and father.